According to the Hyogo Framework for Action, disasters affect over 200 million people annually, causing significant loss of lives, forced migration, and disruption of livelihoods and institutions. The trend over the past 15-20 years points to a greater frequency of environmental, climatic, political, and economic hazards and therefore a growing risk for vulnerable populations worldwide. Though disasters affect everyone, often the impact disproportionately falls on poor countries and the poor and marginalized people within. Thus the effects of disasters are not simply a humanitarian problem, but also a major challenge to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Disaster Risk Reduction programs and policies offer the potential to reduce the effects of a disaster or shift the burden outside the affected community, yet there exist many gaps and unanswered questions. Often the DRR policies and intervention strategies of institutions are not effectively linked or ignore the underlying risk factors and are limited in the use of evidence based programming. This FIC study is designed to improve our knowledge of livelihoods in the context of a disaster (before, after, and during), evaluate the impact of specific interventions intended to reduce risks, help articulate livelihoods approaches to DRR programming, and aid policy makers, donors and agencies in designing and implementing better and more effective DRR programming.

DRR is meant to increase the ability of a household or community to prevent, mitigate, or cope with a disaster through identifying risks, reducing the occurrence of a disaster, reducing the risk of a negative outcome, transferring risks within communities, transferring risk out of the local system, or enabling prudent risk taking. However, there is no single, accepted framework that lends itself to the best analysis of risk-prone environments, determining priorities, or making programmatic choices.

The main body of DRR programming and literature focuses on the prevention, mitigation, or transfer of risk in natural disasters, ignoring the role of DRR in the context of economic shocks, complex emergencies, and protracted conflict. In reality most vulnerable populations, in Sudan and Haiti for instance, are at risk from more than one kind of hazard. Even where conceptual frameworks are well developed there is limited empirical research on the impact of investments in DRR on reducing vulnerability to shocks. Consequently, there is no comprehensive summary of DRR approaches or a coherent evidence based strategy to address livelihood security in the context of simple and compounded disasters.

The overall objectives of the program are

  • improving the understanding of the relationship between disaster risk and livelihood strategies;
  • identifying gaps in knowledge, practice, and policy, and;
  • improving the design of donor funded DRR programs and measuring their impact to identify best practices.

The over-arching goal of these objectives is to improve DRR interventions, leading to improved outcomes in livelihood programs, reduced risk or negative outcomes from shocks, reduced cost of humanitarian response, and enhanced community resilience in risk-prone areas.

This research program will meet these objectives through a three year program. The first phase of the study was a literature review and agency consultation dedicated to outlining the existing literature on disaster risk reduction, highlighting gaps in DRR knowledge and programming, developing a holistic DRR framework entrenched in the livelihood framework, and making recommendations on topics that should be given greater attention in the DRR literature, research, and programming. The second phase, currently underway and building on the findings of phase one, is field research in three country case studies: Kenya, Nepal, and Haiti. Together the three case studies cover environmental, tectonic, economic, and socio-political hazards, as well as different livelihood assets (physical, natural, financial, and human) and population groups (rural, urban, and peri-urban). To date, a qualitative evaluation is underway in Nepal and Haiti, with a quantitative baseline complete in Nepal. Using participatory observation, community mapping, in-depth and semi-structured interviews, as well as household level survey data, these assessments evaluate how households and livelihoods have been affected by the disaster, what coping strategies, including maladaptive, have been utilized and their effectiveness, and the impact and perception of institutional DRR programming in the community.

Given the project’s objective of better informing DRR programming in relation to livelihood strategies, a key approach will be the generation and extensive dissemination of the findings accumulated in this study, making it accessible to the wider humanitarian and development community. To ensure this result the Feinstein Center will produce an overview report, research and case study reports, research papers, workshops and policy briefings, and a comprehensive program report that will be shared with donors, operational agencies, and other relevant stakeholders allowing them to enhance their DRR policy or strategy either directly or via their implementing agencies and partners.

The intended impact of the project is to increase the knowledge of the humanitarian and development community, donors, key stakeholders, academics, and policy makers about DRR programming, and improving livelihoods programming in risk-prone contexts, and thereby improve DRR strategy and policy in order to reduce household and community vulnerability in the face of a disaster. This will be achieved through careful documentation and widespread outreach mechanisms.

This project will be a collaborative effort between researchers at the Feinstein International Center and OFDA. Each case study will also work with partner institutions such as regional and international NGOs, in-country universities, research institutions, and international humanitarian agencies.

Examining Linkages between Disaster Risk Reduction and Livelihoods Literature Review
By Feinstein Center | February 2011

In the disaster context emphasis has been generally placed on the initial humanitarian and emergency response. However, recently there has been an increasing recognition of the importance and value of...

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